A former colleague was complaining to me over drinks the other night that the straights were taking over Cap Hill. (What, because only guys who wear pleated Dockers are guilty of buying tacky, overpriced condos?) 'Mo Town is in danger of becoming 'Ro Town, I guess, but you'd never know it from the venue map offered by the Seattle Lesbian & Gay Film Festival. Now in its 12th year, the fest is not only taking over the city's usual gay-friendly cinemas. (And what movie theater isn't, by definition, gay-friendly?) It's also conducting various after-parties and panel discussions in our doughnut shops, libraries, and furniture boutiques. There's even one function in a condo sales center—see, it's not just the breeders who lust for granite countertops. Is there nothing straight left in this town?
Seattle Lesbian & Gay Film Festival Venues include Cinerama, Northwest Film Forum, Harvard Exit, and Broadway Performance Hall, 325-6500, www.seattlequeerfilm.org. $9 (individual), $185 (full pass), special event prices vary. Fri., Oct. 12–Sun., Oct. 21.
Though there are something like 150 individual titles—most of them shorts—spread out over 12 days, it's still barely possible to see any new themes among the stacked cans of celluloid. They might as well be labeled "coming-out dramas," "painfully earnest documentaries," and "celebrations of camp for viewers of a certain age." (Visit the SLGFF Web site for the full schedule of events and screenings.)
One novel topic is war, and not just the Iraq war, but conflicts stretching back to World War II. If Ken Burns' The War is getting slammed right now for its narrow range of views, documentaries here remind us how pride also extends to pride of country. The best testimonials in Tell (Cinerama, noon, Sun., Oct. 14) go back the furthest—to Germany and Vietnam. One former GI recalls how he turned 18 in a Nazi POW camp, starved to 80 pounds while he and others were forced to labor next to a V2 rocket pad the Allies would later bomb—killing his friends in the process. It's like a chapter out of Kurt Vonnegut. A male operating-room nurse describes men barely older than he dying in his arms during triage in Saigon. More recently, an Arabic-speaking serviceman tells of being booted out of the service, thanks to don't ask/don't tell.
Considerably less profound, and more self-serving, is the doc Semper Fi: One Marine's Journey (Harvard Exit, 9:45 p.m. Wed., Oct., 17), in which an actor essentially joins the Marine Corps so he can make a one-man show out of the experience (including Iraq). Perhaps for some this is what's meant by "theater of war." Christopher Guest is welcome to do a remake—Corky St. Clair in uniform, maybe?
The rest of the fest is a confusing jumble of attractions. Unseen but generating decent festival buzz is the gala opener, about which our Village Voice colleague Nathan Lee recently wrote, "Paul Schrader takes a measured approach, to quietly caustic effect, in The Walker, starring Woody Harrelson as a high-class Washington, D.C., gigolo who finds himself exploited by the power wives he manipulates for a living." Extra fag-haggery bonus: the rug-wearing Harrelson is arm candy for clients including Lauren Bacall and Lily Tomlin (Cinerama, 8 p.m. Fri., Oct. 12).
From André Téchiné (Wild Reeds), The Witnesses dramatizes the early AIDS crisis in France. Being set in the '80s isn't what makes it feel dated; it's just that too many films—and TV movies, for that matter—have been there first. Yes, the hunky Sami Bouajila from The Adventures of Felix has a role, but he's overshadowed by Emmanuelle Béart's overly collagened lips and gravity-proof breasts. There's even a horrible moment when Béart hears some tune on the radio at their Cotê d'Azur beach house and insists that everyone in their bisexual circle dance together—this is French pop music from the '80s, people, and it will make your ears bleed (Cinerama, 7 p.m. Mon., Oct. 15).
Then there's the inevitable recycling from SIFF, including the South Korean No Regret (Northwest Film Forum, 9 p.m. Thurs., Oct. 18), in which we learn it's always a mistake to fall for a South Korean hustler. (My favorite line: "Of all the cocks I suck every night, why should yours be special?") The locally made Blood on the Flat Track (Harvard Exit, 9:45 p.m. Mon., Oct. 15) follows those fabulous Rat City Rollergirls, apparently because the LPGA wasn't available. Spider Lilies (Northwest Film Forum, 9:30 p.m. Sat., Oct. 20), about lesbian longing in Taiwan, has atmosphere but not much forward momentum. As our Frank Paiva wrote back during SIFF, Internet chat rooms and webcams do not for big-screen cinema make.
Fur-positive viewers: See the Wire for Gavin Borchert's take on Bears (Cinerama, 6:45 p.m. Sun., Oct. 14). And for plain old TV viewers, there's a fun-sounding food, screening, and lecture series called "Gay TV Dinners" (three separate nights at the Central Cinema), highlighting the hidden subtexts of classic old television fodder like All in the Family, Police Woman, and Maude. And here's a revelation that has made me reconsider all the viewing proclivities of my youth: You mean there was a homoerotic undercurrent to Starsky and Hutch? I am shocked, shocked. Still, here's a question: Isn't SLGFF supposed to be a film festival, not a TV-studies seminar?
I tried to like the documentary The Godfather of Disco (Harvard Exit, 6 p.m. Sat., Oct. 13), since it samples all the '70s hits of West End Records during the famous heyday of N.Y.C.'s Paradise Garage. But somehow, from Gay Sex in the '70s to The Last Days of Disco to 54, no one's really captured the inclusive, late-night hedonism of that post-Stonewall, pre-AIDS era, and Godfather doesn't either. Ironically, SLGFF is reviving Parting Glances this year, but I would've nominated two other artifacts for inclusion, both recently dusted off by their studios for short theatrical runs and new DVD box sets: the controversial Cruising, with Al Pacino as a cop searching for a gay psycho killer in the S&M clubs; and John Travolta in the classic Saturday Night Fever, which is so straight it's gay. Or so gay it's straight; I'm not sure which. But, unlike The Witnesses, at least you can dance to it.
So for next year, perhaps, could we sharpen up the programming with a sidebar on the '70s?